Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
PHILADELPHIA — College basketball is a grown person’s game.
The competition, intensity, and preparation goes up several notches compared to the high school level. It’s not news that freshman players struggle adapting when they first arrive and that their success comes in between waves of failure.
Aamir Hurst made an immediate impact when he arrived at Holy Family University from Catholic League powerhouse Neumann-Goretti. Although the inevitable growing pains arrived, Hurst kept his head down, working and stretching through the ebbs-and-flows. Hurst is becoming an impact scorer for the Tigers this season with the support of his teammates and head coach Ryan Haigh.
“It's never going to be all smiles and peaches, there's always going to be conflict and all that but you gotta keep working through it,” Hurst said about his freshman growing pains. “(My teammates) tell me to keep my head down and keep working.”
“I did that and it's paying off.”
Holy Family freshman Aamir Hurst is averaging 11.1 ppg this season. (Photo: Courtesy Holy Family Athletics)
The 6-foot-2 guard brought his talents to Holy Family after winning the 2022 PCL championship and District 12 and PIAA Class 4A titles at Neumann Goretti last season — the ninth state title in school history.
Haigh had developed a strong relationship with the South Philly powerhouse during his time as an assistant coach at Holy Family, bringing in Neumann alumni Dymir Montague and Derrick Stewart before becoming head coach in 2019.
Hurst had opportunities to play at Wheeling University (W.Va.) and CACC rival Chestnut Hill, but Haigh’s pitch for Holy Family was simple: Do you want to play as a freshman?
“There was no secret,” Haigh said about recruiting Hurst. “We were open with him, ‘If you’re coming here, you’re going to play.’ He knew there was an opportunity to come and play right away and that was something he wanted to do.”
Hurst is averaging 11.1 ppg in 23.2 mpg through the first 18 games of his career (four starts).
“I had a great conversation with coach Haigh,” the freshman added. “I had a chance to play as a freshman. Who doesn't want to play?
Hurst committed early, which does not happen often for Holy Family recruits, emblematic of Haigh and Hurst’s relationship. Hurst got his chance to play and Haigh has a player that can help Holy Family win games not only this year, but down the road.
“Aamir is a big piece to our puzzle not only now but also moving forward,” Haigh said. “He’s a winner. Even though he’s a freshman, we leave him out there. He makes shots (and) when he’s under control, not trying to do too much and playing within himself he is really good.”
Hurst’s teammates understood early on how talented Hurst is and his potential. Junior Malik Archer (Math, Civics and Sciences), who spent two years away from basketball after a season at Beaver County Community College in 2018-2019, got recruited with Hurst.
The two-first met each other at open-runs and Archer noticed from the jump that Hurst’s mentality with the ball is what set him apart from the others.
“It's not really shocking,” the 6-foot-4 guard said about Hurst’s success. “I knew what the energy was from him. He was a killer.”
A ‘killer’ is a playmaker with high energy, a lethal shooter who is always attacking his defender, according to Archer.
Haigh recognized Hurst’s natural scoring ability and lethal mentality too.
“I saw it out of high school,” Haigh said. “He was aggressive and knows he’s out there to score. It's pretty simple, play defense and when you’re open, shoot the ball.”
“He (finds) different ways to score.”
Aamir Hurst won PCL, District 12 and PIAA titles at Neumann-Goretti last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Hurst started his Holy Family career on fire, earning CACC rookie of the week honors after his first two games. He averaged 13.5 ppg, shot 57.9% from the field, and hit a game-winning three against American International College.
“He had a great start,” Haigh said. “Sometimes I think that can actually be a negative because you think you start off the first weekend thinking it's gonna be easy.”
Despite his hot start, Hurst has struggled to find his shot sometimes. He’s been moved out of the starting lineup and seen his minutes fluctuate during stretches of his freshman campaign.
Hurst’s perspective paired with the support from his teammates and coaching staff have helped him stay level-headed and focused.
“It ‘s really been normal,” Hurst said about his struggles. “I stay ready for when my number is called and when (it’s) called I go out there and play hard, play for my team, and do what they ask me to do.”
“They all uplift me and tell me to keep going,” he continued. “They all believe in me and that helps me keep going and stay confident in my game.”
Hurst looked plenty confident with the ball and played a large role in Holy Family’s 64-63 win over CACC and cross-town rival Jefferson University last Tuesday. He stayed aggressive all night, slashing through the lane, attacking his defender, and shooting from three. The freshman had 15 points on 4-of-10 shooting. Hurst also went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and 1-for-5 from three.
Hurst’s night shooting the 3-ball was indicative of his maturation since arriving at Holy Family. He missed his first four attempts from behind the arc, but didn’t get discouraged and buried a three that kickstarted a 7-0 Hurst run that gave the Tigers a 51-47 lead with 10:22 to play.
“He’s one of those kids that doesn’t hang over,” Haigh said about Hurst’s performance against Jefferson (9-9, 5-3). “He knows another opportunity is going to come. He didn’t care he was 0-for-4. (He has) the next one is going-in mentality.”
“Aamir Hurst is one of the best freshmen in the CACC,” Archer added.
Hurst has taken his struggles in-stride, taking adverse moments and turning them into lessons.
The college game’s physicality compared to the high school level has been the biggest adjustment, players are bigger and stronger, and Hurst has learned to take pride in his body's recovery process because of the increased wear-and-tear. He minds what he eats and stretches for 15 minutes everyday, but his favorite method has been pilates.
Neuman and Rider basketball alumnus Beattie Taylor introduced Hurst to the exercise because of its core-strength, balance, and flexibility benefits. The freshman was hesitant at first, but after finding out that pros like Jimmy Butler, James Harden, and Lebron James partake, Hurst embraced it.
“I (started) doing pilates in the offseason and that helped me,” Hurst said. “It showed me some types of stretches I could be doing. It’s not easy at all.
“It's a challenge, but I stuck with it. Nothing is easy in life if you really want it.”
“I didn't know about that,” Haigh said about Hurst’s workout. “But we’ll have to call his bluff on that one and see if he can do a little pilates instruction one day before practice.”